The ‘Building Better Cities’ program (BBC) was a major initiative of the Hawke Labor Government. It was initiated by the Honourable Brian Howe MP, first in his role as Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services then later as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Housing and Regional Development.

It was the first Commonwealth engagement in urban Australia since the Whitlam Government in the 1970s, with Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, led a major shake-up of thinking about managing Australia’s cities and towns.

The shock of the 1970s initiatives and the acrimony they created with the States meant that the 1990s program needed to be built in a collaborative way, bringing State and Territory Governments into a new partnership with the Commonwealth, sharing responsibility and working together to achieve agreed outcomes.

This meant that BBC not only broke new ground with the style of intervention undertaken (focussed on capital works initiatives) but it also created new forms of intergovernmental agreements built around outcomes — an approach that was, at the time, at the leading edge of intergovernmental financial arrangements.

This chapter focuses on the development of the initiative, the building of collaboration with the States and Territories, and the impact of the program both over the period it was funded and, more importantly, in the years after. It was in the latter period that the urban initiatives began to have real impact on the pace, nature and character of development across Australian cities, most importantly in the inner cities and in strategic areas of urban renewal.